HomeAAPI ActorsStudy finds that Asian immigrants are underrepresented on TV

Study finds that Asian immigrants are underrepresented on TV

Fresh Off the Boat
Constance Wu and Randall Park star in Fresh Off the Boat. ABC Photo

A new study released Wednesday found that Asian immigrants are underrepresented on television, reports NBC News.

The study, titled Immigration Nation: Exploring Immigration Portrayals on Television, is from Define American, a media and culture organization, in collaboration with the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center’s Media Impact Project.

“For many Americans, what they know of immigration and immigrants is limited to what they see on television,” said Elizabeth Grizzle Voorhees, Define American’s Managing Director of Creative Initiatives. “The way immigrants are portrayed in this space is more important than ever as we face the rise of anti-immigrant sentiments across the country.”

The study analyzed 143 episodes from 47 television shows that aired in 2017 and 2018 and found that 16 percent of immigrants on TV are Asian/Pacific Islander, despite the group making up 26 percent of the immigrant population in reality.

The study also found that 40 percent of immigrants on TV are Latino, who comprise 45 percent of the actual immigrant population.

Asians are projected to surpass Hispanics in number and become the largest immigrant group in the U.S. by 2055, with the top country of origin for new immigrants to the U.S. in 2016 being India, according to the Pew Research Center.

The study was conducted by trained content coders, who focused on demographic, socioeconomic, and social representations of immigrant characters depicted in each episode. They also paid attention to the context and use of culturally- or politically-charged terms relating to immigration.

Key findings include: underrepresentation of Asian immigrants, Black undocumented immigrants, and female immigrants in every racial group; overrepresentation of incarcerated immigrants and criminal immigrants; and immigrant characters being less educated on TV than they are in reality.

The study also reads, “The majority of immigrants on TV were either recurring or one-episode characters and almost half of characters had less than 10 speaking lines.”

In addition, the words “deportation’ and “ICE” appeared in about a fifth of the 143 episodes, with Latino characters being the subject of 37 percent of the deportation mentions.

“We know that the representation of people from marginalized communities on TV and film directly affects how those communities are treated in everyday life,” said Define American CEO Jose Antonio Vargas. “We hope this data can encourage creators in the entertainment industry to craft better developed and diverse immigrant characters and continue to inspire humanity in our country.”

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